(first posted 3/26/2011) Every summer, the sputtering, popping hit-and-miss utility engines, the booming exhaust pulses of a giant antique gas-powered generator engine, the hissing and huffing of steam engines and the popping of old John Deere tractors floats down the Willamette valley and awakens in me a primordial need to commune with these elemental beings. I don’t always heed the call, but every time I do, my soul is nourished. It may not be everyone’s cup of gasoline, but the sounds, smells and sights of Powerland Steam-Up are as rejuvenating for those susceptible as a health spa for others.
I can’t begin to do justice to all that transpires over the course of any given day here; its much more than just tractors and engines. There’s an operating trolley and museum. A truck museum. A Caterpillar history building, and vintage cars and racing cars. And much more…I didn’t really try to capture a full range of things, as I was mostly interested in shooting the tractors I drove in my youth this last time.
Next time, I’ll bring a camcorder to capture some of the big stationary engines at work; still pictures just don’t do them justice.
But when they fire, and a puff of black smoke erupts from the that big unmuffled pipe along with a deep-from-the-bottom-of-a-well BOOM! Electric motors are slick and clean, but will never have the living, breathing and farting rhythms that make up the soul of an internal combustion engine.
Of course, the old timer steam lovers felt that way about IC engines too. I love steamers too; deeply. But just not quite in the same way; early exposure probably accounts for that.
Anyway, we’ll do a quick tour of some of the classic vintage tractors, which so many of us were exposed to in our youths. But before we do that, let’s pay our respects to our foreign visitors. The Porsche Diesel is always a crowd favorite.
Not a product of the same actual company that builds Panameras today, Porsche-Diesel-Motorenbau built a line of tractors from 1948 through 1963. In typical Porsche fashion, it was air cooled, and by using individual 822 cc cylinder barrels and heads, modular engines in one, two, three and four cylinder version were easily built. This is 1959 Standard, a twin, has 1644 cc, and an output of some 20-30 hp.
This name is usually associated with alloy engines, not crude cast iron. Ferruccio Lamborghini indulged his car-building dreams with the profits of his tractor company, which he started shortly after WW2.
Don’t know much about this R365 except that it does not have a V12.
Our distinguished visitor from England is the renowned Field Marshall.
What makes the Field Marshall truly memorable is that it has only one cylinder, but a very ample one. As in a 6″ bore and 9″ stroke, giving some 6 liters capacity. And it was a two-stroke diesel at that. Hearing one at work, running at some 500 – 700 rpm and chuffing its exhaust out that chimney is mind altering. Here’s the starting procedure, from wiki:
To start the Marshall a smouldering piece of special paper, containing saltpeter, is inserted into the cylinder head by means of the special screw-in holder in the cylinder head. The engine is then turned over with a starting handle placed in the starting dog on the flywheel. This is aided by the decompression valve, which decompresses the engine for anything up to 6 revolutions (generally 3 revolutions is sufficient – a spiral groove on the perimeter of the flywheel is used to determine the number of revolutions and position before top dead centre where the decompressor mechanism disengages and permits compression) to allow the flywheel to gain speed and inertia to turn the engine through compression, and get the engine to fire. Depending on the condition and mood of individual tractors, it is possible to get a thorough workout starting the Marshall.
A cartridge starting system is also fitted to the tractor. A shot-gun type cartridge is loaded into a breech on the engine’s intake system. The smouldering paper is placed in the cylinder head, and the cartridge is fired by tapping the protrusion pin with a hammer. This puts a charge into the bore, sending the piston through its stroke, bursting into life. This method, however, deposits carbon which often causes jamming of the decompression valve if cartridges are regularly used. It also puts significantly more strain on the engine.
No wonder they disappeared in the fifties, along with so much other wonderfully eccentric British iron.
How about something a bit more conventional? I ran out of time in the related Auto-Biography chapter, but the first year I spent at the Mennonite farm, they had one of these, before it was replaced with the two Farmalls. It had a hand clutch lever, which was a bit odd and easy to pop.
Cases were common too, and I drove one like in the back. Except for the six cylinder Olivers and two cylinder John Deeres, most American tractors had four cylinder engines. And diesels were still quite uncommon in the fifties.
The remarkable Ford 8N and 9Ns are still earning their keep all over the world. At about $2k today, they can still give a modern tractor a run for their money in terms of productivity. There’s an organization that buys and ships these to Africa to give farmers their first wheels. Not bad for a design that goes back to the mid thirties.
Four wheel drive is now ubiquitous, but it took a long time to become commonly adopted. This is a very early example.
Its reduction gears are incorporated at the top of the big wheel hub.
This 1954 Farmall Super M-TA is the equivalent of a ’55 Chevy with the optional power-pack engine. It was the biggest and baddest machine in the catalog that year, and my happiest childhood days were spent behind its wheel. King of the Field!
I probably would have felt the same about the Olivers, with their handsome sheet metal, paint and creamy smooth six cylinder engines.
It was the equivalent of being a Chevy, Ford or Mopar man back then. And John Deere ended up winning the competition, as the only American tractor maker that never got sold or merged. The Ford of tractors.
Diesel engines slowly penetrated the market, and some of the smaller tractor companies bought GM’s Detroit Diesel engines. But I’m a bit suspicious of this is an original or retrofit, as the V6 DD didn’t appear until about 1959 or so. And this MH 66P looks a bit older. Anyone know?
If these tractors look small by today’s standards, check out this British Tri-Trac built by David Bradley.
I need to stop, otherwise the CC servers will be constipated every time someone tries to load up a page. We’ll be back there this summer. Any special requests?
“And John Deere ended up winning the competition, as the only American tractor maker that never got sold or merged. The Ford of tractors.”
Oddly Ford tractors started as a partnership with Ferguson and eventually did get sold..
I’m not sure Ferguson was a willing partner. After all, they did sue Uncle Henry for stealing their patents.
“The handshake” was the famous agreement between Henry Ford and Harry Ferguson. In retrospect, most partnerships with either of them went bad.
The Ford Ferguson story is entertaining in itself when the partnership disolved ford kept using the Ferguson system hydraulic 3 point linkage on its own tractors Ferguson sued and won the biggest patent payout of the time $6 mill. Those little tractors are referred to here as Fergys with standard 4cyl motors, you can should you desire to put the twin carbs, cam, dissy etc from a triumph tr on with a set of headers, one very fast tractor.
See the VW stud pattern on the Porshe
John Deere likely has the distinction of being more commemorated in song that the other makes.
Good point! I can only think of one song with International Harvester in it.
Actually Henry Ford started building tractors before the Ferguson / Ford deal, they were called Fordson tractors. It was only after a friend of both Henry Ford and Harry Ferguson introduce the two, did it become a partnership of sorts, a hand shake deal.
The shotgun start is called pecussion start and my memory tells me this tractor is closely related to the LANZ Bulldog from Germany. Have you seen a crowbar starting system? even more dangerous.
This sounds similar to the cartridge starting system for radial aircraft engines, and I wouldn’t doubt that the Brits were inspired by it.
IIRC, in early 1942 the cartridges ran short on U.S. navy carriers in the South Pacific, and an old manual technique called “the banjo” was tried, involving a long pole used as a lever, and a line tied to the lever and wrapped around the propeller hub. This sounds like it might be similar to (and about as enticing) as your crowbar start. It required excellent reflexes and a lot of luck, because if the line got tangled on the hub, it would yank the pole–and anyone hanging onto it–back toward the spinning propeller.
Have you ever seen the Minneapolis-Moline Model U from the Thirties that had a completely enclosed cab with doors, a windshield and fenders? It looked like a tractor/car/locomotive hybrid. Pretty neat, and very rare if I remember correctly.
Very nice Paul ;
Thanx for this ~ I grew up in Rural New England where we only has 1930’s vintage Johnny Poppers, an ‘A’ and a ‘B’ .
Sturdy and reliable but not exciting apart from having to hand start those beasts because we couldn’t afford the $9 for a new 6 volt battery .
I love to watch hit and miss engines work, I vividly remember hearing the sound from the ‘ make or break’ engines on lobster boats in Maine .
Theres a big vintage machinery display that is done locally once every four years next year its back the last one was great with some fantastic old gear on display mostly in going order, this weapon belongs to a friend its almost complete but does not go however its quite rare the British Science museum has part of one and can not explain how it works he takes this to these machinery events along with a lot of other stuff. Its called a Aerogen gas producer installed into houses but I really would not want one anywhere I lived.
After the Ford Ferguson agreement disolved they both kept producing tractors this is a 1947 Ferguson TEA 18 one of the first fitted with a standard engine it still has the Continental style bellhousing, other than the red paint its all original and unrestored it runs great. Fergys were all battleship grey the paint used was ex British navy but when traded in on newer models after the Massey Harris/ Ferguson merger dealers painted the bonnet and guards red for resale, I saw many fergys done that way where my father worked as they were Fergy dealers back in the day.
That’s very interesting KB. I’ve seen early Fergs painted like that in the States. It may have been similar to a program Ford tractor N.America did in the early 60s when the new Fords became blue. Ads ran in farm journals and local papers for a Repaint Special. Stating “Give your tractor the modern new look”, all for a limited time low price. See your participating dealer below”. This of course was to get the prospective farmer to haul his tractor in, then offered refreshments, waltzed all around the latest models and offered a handsome trade in on his old one. “Why not have a new tractor under that new paint”?
Of course trade ins repainted the new colors didn’t look so old on the used equipment lot.
looking through these pictures of old tractors reminded me of some of my family camping trips in the late 1970’s to early 80’s. For reference, I was born in 1973. We always took a camping trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and my dad had a 1976 Apollo jet boat. The boat was relatively big and heavy, and needed a deep launch to get it off/on the trailer. In the time frame mentioned, we went to a private campground on Big Manistique Lake, with didn’t really have a launch. The campground owner would just hitch the trailer on to his tractor and back out in the lake far enough to launch. I would guess that he had to back my dad’s boat about 100′ into the lake, but it actually worked just fine.
One year his regular tractor was down and he used an older tractor. With a big external flywheel. Everything was going fine until the flywheel hit the water and nearly sprayed him off the seat! Water was sprayed probably 50′ in the air. Thirty five years or so later I still have a vivid memory of it.
Unfortunately I don’t have a picture of the tractor/boat assembly, but I do have pictures of the boat.
David Bradley was an American implement manufacturer bought by Sears Roebuck&Co in1910. It became their brand for garden eguipment until the early 60s.,like Kenmore is to their appliances. The name may be easily confused with David Brown tractors U.K also sold in North America since the 50s
I loved this article and could go on and on. I know exactly how you felt on that Super M. When your a kid and climb up to that seat that’s higher than your head you were on top of the world .?
One more note. Nothing will make you jump faster than when stepping in for a closer look at a steam traction engine that’s fired ,and it decides to snort off its excess steam. Usually to the great amusement of its operators.
Takes me right back to my childhood. The first vehicle I was allowed to “drive” was a Kramer Traktor with trailer. I remember having all kinds of trouble, including steering. I was so focused on the machinery that I did not look far enough up the road. My uncle had to grab the wheel to correct.
I have a game with that tractor in it.